Engineering and design student insights

Student projects, placements, research and study experiences in the Faculty of Engineering & Design

Tagged: undergraduate

A very Bavarian Christmas!

  , , , , , ,

📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Undergraduate

Very early on in deciding to undertake the Erasmus semester I knew I wanted to maximise my cultural experience and spend as much time as physically possible in Germany. Therefore I stayed in Munich over the Christmas holidays in order to experience a proper German Christmas and to use the time off of lectures to travel more widely. So as lectures ended I waved goodbye to my friends and colleagues, however  it wasn't all lonely however as my partner, Kathryn, came to stay!!

The Christmas buzz in Munich really gets underway at the end of November when the Christkindlsmarkts (Christmas markets) come out in force. Having experienced the Bath Christmas market I thought I was prepared, however the number and scale of the markets in Germany made Bath look tiny in comparison! Every district of Munich seemed to have its own local market (my "local", in Schwabing, was especially pretty and focused on the arts and crafts of the area)  as well as the huge ones in town catering to every taste possible. Instead of the major shopping experience we seem to have in the UK the markets here are more of a destination to meet and socialise with friends, drinking Glühwein and eating Heiße Maroni around the outside tables. My favourite market was the "medieval market" at Wittelsbacherplatz - themed in a medieval style with the huts and vendors dressed appropriately, it was a lot of fun to be shopping for axes and bows eating a Flammbrot (like a german answer to the pizza) avoiding the sword-fighting going on behind - Brilliant! And in the evenings when the lights were out it was truly magical to wander the streets of the old city stumbling across market after market in under the twinkling lights...

IMG_341515203298_1433448193347200_7511420838677077974_n 15451461_1454513277907358_1142352626_n15209185_1434476149911071_761528877_n

Christmas Markets of Munich! 

Christmas eve is the main event for most of Bavaria with Midnight mass being the "unmissable" event to attend so e we wrapped up warm and headed down to the local church at 11:00 pm. Singing Stille Nacht in a huge catholic church lit by candle light was a great way of entering Christmas. For breakfast we had the typical Bavarian breakfast of pretzel, white sausage and sweet mustard (washed down with large mugs of tea!) and then moved on to attempting to cook a Christmas dinner without an oven on just two electric rings - fairly successfully I have to add! After lunch a brisk walk in the English garden and then back to open presents. Skyping home to our family and playing some cards ended off one of the most memorable Christmases I am sure I will ever have.

IMG_3573 - Copy15726365_1481717791853573_2485817577559195800_n

Christmas

In the following week we became tourists, visiting Salzburg and Vienna on the train for a few days to explore the beautiful cities and learn about their illustrious histories too. Back in munich we travelled to the Dachau concentration camp memorial which was a haunting place with an eye opening museum, the fairytale Neuschwanstein castle and the grand Nymphenburg Schloss which also had a large "ice festival" on its frozen lakes and ponds. Also an experience was the Müller'sches Volksbad, an old classical style swimming hall with beautiful architecture and an attached suite of steam rooms and sauna in the traditional German style - you leave your modesty along with your swimming trunks on the hook by the door!!

IMG_3735 - CopyIMG_3726

Neuschwansten Castle

New years eve in Munich was also a lot of fun - Shops are able to sell fireworks from three days before and it seemed that everyone made good use of this time judging by the empty shelves and people staggering back to their homes under the weight of explosives. On the evening itself it was like staying in a warzone with constant bangs from around five o clock until early into the new year however from what we could see the colours in the sky were amazing. The next day a huge smog had enveloped the city and we heard on the news that the air pollution was 26 (!!!!) times over the EU legal limit because of all the smoke! And the debris on the usually pristine streets was unbelievable too! Fortunately it snowed the next day and covered everything up!

Back into the last few weeks in Munich now we are currently (trying) to organise our exams and complete our courses before heading back to Bath for semester 2. Although I am excited about seeing my friends in the UK again and moving back to the beautiful city of Bath, I will be very sad to leave Munich and I think a piece of my heart will be forever here... but more on that later.

Ciao!

Matthew

 

Video Production for your Student Project

  , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

📥  Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

When people ask what I do, I say that I’m an engineer, completing the second year of my PhD. I work on control systems and simulation, and I want to go into the automotive industry. But in my spare time during my university career, I have developed video production and rendering skills to the point that I’m now earning some income on the side, and I love it! (The income, yes, but also what I do).

I’ve developed these skills gradually throughout a few years, but they’ve really been given a big boost when I joined Team Bath Racing - the Formula Student Racing team – back in 2014. I became business manager for that year, and marketing became a big part of my job. It included branding, media content, and making the team appealing to both students and sponsors. I can write letters, hand out flyers, I can tell you over and over again what makes TBR fantastic, but what I’ve found to be most effective tool is video content. It’s catchy, it’s exciting, and it’s dynamic, just like TBR!

As a result, we have a strong media presence both in the University and in the Formula Student world. If you don't know what Formula Student is, take a look at this fantastic video produced by my good friend and video editing partner Kevin Johnson, who filmed and edited this in one weekend!:

 

So, maybe you’re involved with a University project, and you want the world to know how great it is. Perhaps, like TBR, you need sponsors to survive, and you need to attract them to YOUR project, not the one at University X. Well, let me share my experience from the perspective of someone who is an engineer first, and an amateur video producer second.


PLAN IT!
The first step of video production for your university project is to assemble your V-Team. When you’ve got university deadlines and project timelines to meet, video production becomes much easier with a good team to share the workload and creative process.

The V-team includes stakeholders within the University project who have a say in how the project would be represented to the public. Ours included the project manager, business manager, sponsorship accounts manager, and the video grunts like myself. We sweetened the deal by meeting on a Friday afternoon and going for a crepe in the SU afterwards, so our attendance was usually quite high. If you’re a strong, independent lone wolf who “don’t need no team”, don’t skip this section! This is probably the most crucial phase of the video production process, and one that people rush over most often.

Unified Brand
At your early team meetings, you need to figure out what why you want to make videos, because there’s no point wasting your effort. Before you start filming, start by developing the marketing concept and visual themes for your project. It’s important because it will give your video content a unified approach, building your brand and making it recognisable. Without discussing these themes, your videos will feel disjointed.

Indeed, the outcomes of these meetings will be valid for other areas of engagement, not just your videos; for TBR this included our social media, posters, presentations, events, our apparel, and even the racecar itself! We settled on our team colours of black, white, and BP green, along with the occasional hexagon pattern, and that bled into most areas of our brand for last year.

TBR16

Black, White, BP Green and Hexagon theme, as seen on the TBR16 livery and headrest.

I’ve found coming up with a few key phrases to sum up the marketing campaign helps by making sure each video ultimately meets one or more of these requirements. Last year our three phrases were:

“Professional”

“Creates Loyal Fans”

“Visceral”

Our videos had to reflect these phrases as much as we could creatively manage.

Plan Your Video Content
Now that you have your unified approach figured out, it’s time to make a plan! Think about how many videos you want to (and are able to) produce. Should they coincide with some of your key dates? Who wants to take the lead on each one? In what way will these videos help your project along? You don’t want to end up with a huge video workload at the same time as that coursework you will inevitably procrastinate over until the week before hand-in.

Most of our videos had our big May 25th event in mind – TBR Car Launch. All of our videos pointed towards Car Launch because that is when we would unveil our car for the first time, and we want our fans to be loyal to our team throughout the subsequent race season. It’s also the only time when nearly all of our past and present sponsors travel to Bath to see us, so it has a lot of sponsorship money riding on it.

Once you have a gameplan for which videos you want to release in the year, make a plan for each one!

Who are we trying to reach?” Is it sponsors? Fans? Schoolchildren? Students? This will almost certainly dictate the ‘mood’ of your video.

What are we trying to tell them, or get them to do?” Each video has a purpose, and this needs to be discussed within your brand phrases. Is it to relay information to people who’ve never heard of you? To generate interest of people who have? Pitch a proposal for a sponsor? Set a goal for the video, and possibly write a script.

How do we get them to watch it?” What use is the video if no-one watches it! Think about your distribution plans, and how will you make your video visible to your target audience. This discussion should also branch off into plans for expanding your overall marketing and public engagement strategy, whether it be through social media, the events you attend, flyers around campus etc.  You need to maximise your marketing platform to give your videos the best reach they can.

How do we put it into practice?” One of my tasks was to create a teaser one month before Car Launch to get people excited about it. So I looked back at ‘Professional’ and ‘Visceral’, and created a 360 video that included our colour themes and patterns. Watch it below!

 

Naturally, this is a render and not a filmed and edited piece, but it reflects how those early meetings drive your creativity and innovation.

With your plan ready, it’s time to get filming.


FILM IT!
Filming can be both the most fun and the most frustrating part of the process. It consists of equal parts joy of seeing the video develop before your eyes, and annoyance from not filming that perfect shot you want. But that’s video production for you.

There are plenty of guides on the internet on how to set up a perfect shot written by people much better at this than me, so I won’t waste your time here talking about it, but I will give you a few pointers as someone who’s probably in much the same position as you!

University Library has you covered: If you don’t have a camera, the University Library has some that you can hire out that come with a tripod. Follow this link for more information.

Multiple takes: Film the same shot at least three times from the same angle if you’re able to. Then film the same thing three times from a different angle! This makes editing much easier as you can splice the good bits from each one together, and you end up with a much better video.

Use a tripod: The shaky documentary-style video might be having a resurgence (think Parks and Recreation), but they use special equipment to not make it feel nauseating. The best thing you can do to make your videos not look like a home movie is to use a tripod. If you can get a slider, too, this will make your videos feel much more slick and professional (I’m sure someone in Mech Eng would have fun building one for you).

Use a microphone: If your video is to have any speaking in it, be sure to use an external microphone, not just the built-in one from the camera. Bad audio can ruin a video, usually more so than the visuals can! This link shows you what I mean.

 

Zoom: If like us you have a team member keen on photography who has a DSLR with a zoom lens, be sure to try out a 50mm zoom in some of your shots (strictly speaking it’s a 50mm ‘focal length’). This is the closest to the human eye zoom, and makes the video seem much more natural. Too little zoom and it feels like a home video. Too much and any shakiness gets amplified. For comparison, the new iPhone 7 has a 28mm zoom (again, "focal length"). The video camera from the University Library may also have a zoom function, so give it a try and see what you like.

It takes longer than you think: If you’re in charge of filming a particular video, plan enough time to try the shots you want, and then double it. It takes much longer than you think, and other people involved need to be aware of that. As the old guy in Toy Story 2 said: “you can’t rush art.” Good planning makes the filming activity take twice as long as scheduled, bad planning makes it take much, much longer. Keep that in mind.

One final note, don’t be afraid to get creative! Just be sure to get the shots you feel you need within your timeframe; any extra time allows you to get really creative. A few people may have seen myself and my friend in the car park on Saturday, trying out a wheelchair to get some smooth dynamic shots of our cars… it sort of worked, by the way!


EDIT IT!
As an engineer, I like to tinker. Whether it be my computer code, my car, my electronics, I like to try and explore new ways to make my experience better. Consequently, editing is my favourite part of the video process, as I get to tweak this parameter or animate this gain… plus I get to avoid sunlight like a true engineer.

Pick your poison: After filming, you’ll already have visualised a vague sequence in your mind, and know how you want the video to look. The key is getting good at a chosen editing software to literally make your dreams come true. Difficult software can ruin the experience to the point you get so frustrated that you just say ‘that’ll do’ and end up with a poor video, so choose wisely. Something like Windows Movie Maker just isn’t going to cut it (pun intended), though iMovie is getting better. As a student, you get the benefit of discounts of many editing suites, so I would recommend something like Adobe Premiere. It’s part of a £15/month package, and includes Photoshop, After Effects and loads more Adobe products. Plus you get a free trial! Find out more here.

Again, there are plenty of online guides on editing software and how to use it, so chose an editing suite and get good at googling! However, as before, here are a few pointers to help your process:

Check music royalties: The world of copyright is a minefield, and one where you don’t want to put a foot wrong. Unfortunately, obtaining the rights to a particular song is usually expensive. We wanted to use a Jack Garratt song in one of our videos, but after contacting just the publisher the basic price was £2000! I explained it was for a good cause, but they said that was their ‘charities’ rate. Your best bet is to look for – and likely pay for – ‘royalty free’ music, like the ones found in here. Alternatively, you could compose your own…

Introduce yourselves: Most YouTube channels use some form of creative intro displaying their logo, as does TBR, and so should you! It’s a great way to tie your videos together so that they are recognisable, and lets you draw the viewers in. Think about it – Facebookers scroll through hundreds of videos a week, why would they want to stop and watch yours? You have two seconds to grab their attention. After Effects and Blender are my go-to tools for motion graphics, but you can equally film something for it instead.

Team Feedback: As the old adage goes ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, and that is certainly true for editing. Ever heard of famous bands splitting because of ‘creative differences’? It’s best not to have multiple people editing a video, as your creative vision gets clouded trying to constantly explain it to a pushy team member. However, you really should approach your V-Team after your first cut, as they will have really good feedback and should offer constructive creative criticism on how to make the video even better! The final cut lays on your lap, but they certainly help you get there.

Here is one of our favourite videos made by Team Bath Racing. It was for a competition here at the University hosted by Women in Engineering to help promote engineering amongst schoolchildren, particularly girls. We won by the way. Because the video wasn’t a classic promo for TBR, we didn’t implement all the marketing-related tips outlined above, but we did follow the general video production process, overall.

 

There you have it! Once you’ve finished your video and your team is happy, get it out there for the world to see.


Closing Remarks
Getting good at video editing is not an overnight event, but it is a skill that is worth every second you put in. It’s easier to learn video editing when you have a project you’re passionate about, like the project you’re involved with at the University. For example, I’ve been learning a rendering program called Blender by doing 3D renders for TBR for the past three years, just because I was passionate about the project. Now, my skill has developed to the point that I’m considering starting up a render and video production business with my friend, as we’ve had many people and companies approach us with paying contracts to produce videos and renders for them!

All this to say, don’t feel like you’re wasting your time being stuck doing editing. It’s a valuable life skill and a creative outlet, so why not take the opportunity to benefit your project while also developing yourself.

If you have any questions or queries, feel free to find me on Person Finder, or pop down to the TBR Buildroom in 4 East and ask around how you can get involved. Please also be sure to like Team Bath Racing on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you can see the awesome activities we get up to. Look out for news about TBR Car Launch, and find out how you can attend! We have some big plans for this year, stay tuned.

Happy Filming,

Frederik ‘Franco’ Botes

 

Taking to the skies with Human Powered Aircraft

  , , ,

📥  Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Lewis Rawlinson, leader of our Bath University Man Powered AirCraft (BUMPAC) team.


In February 2015 seven Aerospace Engineering students were tasked to design a Human Powered Aircraft from scratch. The BUMPAC team designed an innovative aircraft with rigid lift struts and modern composite structure. A year later four of the original members based their final-year engineering projects around HPAs. We came together to revive BUMPAC and continue the work started by HPA teams before us.

Inheriting a skeleton set of wings, a fuselage and a few other components, we set about redesigning and building our aircraft, which would later be christened Angel. I designed and built the drivetrain, as well as taking responsibility for all organisational, admin and logistical tasks for the team. This included dividing jobs, setting deadlines and advising the rest of the team on technical and interface aspects.

Angel’s first flight

In July we took Angel to the airfield for the BHPFC Sywell competition. After fixing damage sustained in transit and waiting for a weather window we attempted our first flight. Unfortunately there were issues with the drivetrain that prevented the propeller from getting to full speed. We anticipated this might be an issue and had already manufactured tensioning devices, but had left these off the aircraft in an attempt to save weight. We fitted our tensioning devices and made a number of adjustments to the aircraft, particularly increasing dihedral and modifying the control system interface.

On the morning of July 20th weather conditions looked perfect. With a slight headwind the team rolled the aircraft out onto the concrete apron, pointed into the wind and started pedalling and pushing hard. Angel leapt six feet into the air taking the whole team by surprise. Unfortunately she then lost a lot of airspeed causing her to stall and come crashing back down a few seconds later. Nevertheless, with this taste of success we set about fixing the damage again and making more adjustments. This time looking for more stability and easier control!

24 hours later Angel flies again

Just 24 hours later the team were back out and ready for more, but with no wind this would be a much harder effort. Lining up again on the concrete apron, pointing out towards plenty of space the props started spinning and the aircraft accelerated, very quickly running out of tarmac and bumping along the grass to a gentle stop. The team rolled her back as far as possible, lined up and went again. This time Angel accelerated more quickly, tapped onto the grass and with a pull of the stick lifted gently into the air. Alarmingly in taking off, she had rolled slightly and started turning right towards the hangars. The pilot (me) pulled off the power, touched down and rolled to a stop. Crisis averted with no damage! We put Angel away for the first time without damage. A very welcome respite.

34 seconds of flight

Throughout the next day we tinkered and rested, eagerly awaiting the evening’s flying. This time the team made their way all the way up to the end of the main runway. When the all clear was given, the props slowly started spinning up, the ground handlers started running, the front wheel lifted off the ground and a few seconds later the rear followed suit. Flying just above the ground Angel swept down the runway gracefully, eventually touching down 34 seconds later. She pulled off the runway and came to a gentle stop, caught by the ground handlers who had been following behind on bicycles. I collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed by the effort and joy of what had been achieved. Angel once again went away unharmed.

Angel's final flight

Dawn broke on the last Saturday of the competition. The controls and cg had been slightly adjusted in the hope of reducing the power requirement and making it easier to take-off. The latter was achieved arguably too successfully. With a slight headwind, Angel set off down the runway under full pilot power, climbed and rolled aggressively, and came back down with an almighty crack. The left wing tip caught the ground and tore the wing from the fuselage, shattering a handful of ribs, destroying the centre section of the wing and tearing the fuselage apart at the base of the chain tube. With that, the competition was all but over for us.

I’m proud of the incredible success that was achieved by just four passionate guys with buckets of enthusiasm. The remains of Angel were packed away and sent back to the University of Bath, in the hope that the next generation will carry her on and make her great once again.


Find out how UK universities are embracing Human Powered aircraft to promote engineering skills.

The problem of comfort in prosthetics

  , , , , , , ,

📥  Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Oscar Rovira (2nd year Integrated Mechanical & Electrical Engineering student).


There are thousands of amputations per year in war-torn countries due to mines. The current process of multiple castings and weeks of testing for every individual prosthetic limb has remained relatively unchanged for fifty years. This is a time consuming and costly process for a standard prosthetic (prices can range from £4000 to £40,000).

3D printing technology is developing prosthetic technology at a reduced price, but there remains comfort and reliability issues. As part of my first-year project I decided to focus on developing affordable, comfortable prosthetics. In the end, no matter how robust a prosthesis is, if it’s not comfortable to wear, then it won't be used.

Developing a prototype

Once I knew my objective, I started drawing and sketching all the ideas that came to my mind: from developing a fully 3D printed design of a robotic leg that could automatically adapt to the limb, to creating a prosthesis which could be “built” by the customer (imagine Lego pieces constructing and improving their design). After two weeks of crazy designs and research I decided that the quickest way to solve the problem of comfort was to create a tool that could analyse the stiffness of the stump at any point. This would reduce the forces that the socket applies to the hard tissue, thus reducing any soreness due to bad force distribution.

Inspired by the FitSocket from MIT, and with the objective of reducing the cost whilst maintaining reliability, I started writing all the specifications that “Rijido” (the name I gave my project) needed. Once I had all the measurements and data I spent three days doing all the CAD designs that I would later 3D print. Once all the parts were printed, I started troubleshooting with the prototype and assembly until I got a much better result. Then I used a solder to attach all the wires to the prototype and I connected an Arduino with a bit of code in order to retrieve all the data. After one month Rijido’s first prototype was born!

Seeking funding and promoting my project

I would say that there’s nothing more fulfilling than to see hard work, passion and dedication finally paying off, but that's not where the story ends. I posted my project on Instructables and I applied to a seed accelerator named Imagine to receive feedback and promote Rijido. Although I didn't receive funding from the seed accelerator in the end, I still managed to finish third out of two hundred applicants.

A prosthetist from South Carolina noticed my project on Instructables and expressed an interest in using Rijido as a tool in his practice. It was so exciting to see that my project was actually something people were already looking for. This prosthetist got in touch with the MIT Department of Biomechanics, which then contacted Arthur Petron, a postgraduate who holds the patent alongside Hugh Herr (a heavily influential person in the area of biomechanics) of FitSocket. It was amazing to talk on LinkedIn with the person (Arthur) who first inspired me. Rijido was also then selected as a finalist for the TEDxBarcelona Awards 2016.

Passion and perseverance

Fun, stress, excitement, uncertainty…I would say that the whole journey of making Rijido was a combination of these emotions. The fact that I could use 3D printers, get spare parts and work both in the mechanical and electrical workshops at any time, was the most fun part. I felt like a kid in a ball pit.

Thanks to Rijido I have learnt a host of things! In terms of technical skills, I have mastered how to use 3D printers, I have developed my skills at using turning machines, drawing, CAD modelling and project management. The project also introduced me to different business strategies. In terms of personal skills, I have gained more confidence in myself and improved my communication skills. I’ve learnt again that the combination of passion and perseverance can make any idea into reality and verified how errors and mistakes during the design process are key to producing a much better final product.

Definitely only one of the many more projects yet to come…

Find out more about Rijido.